By Susan Collins-Smith
MSU Ag Communications/ with staff additions
A profitable sales outlet and a ready-made customer base make farmers markets the ideal channels for small-scale producers to sell their crops.
“Price and demand both drive the success of farmers markets,” said Rick Snyder, vegetable specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service and researcher with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station in Crystal Springs. “Growers are able to cut out the wholesale middleman and sell their fresh produce to the consumer at retail prices.
“Many customers today are locavores who make it a point to buy local, and the grower doesn’t have to go looking for them. They will be there. They want fresher fruits and vegetables to feed their families. And nothing is fresher than produce grown right in your town or county,” Snyder said.
Winston Countians will have an opportunity to buy local as the Farmer’s Market returns on June 18 at the Louisville Coliseum from 3:30pm to 5:30 pm each Thursday.
In 2004, Mississippi had 23 known farmers markets. That number steadily increased to 84 by 2014.
More markets allow growers to sell in multiple towns and spread out their harvest days, Snyder said.
Leon Eaton, who owns Triple Eaton Farms in Mount Olive, uses this strategy. He grows tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplants and other vegetables hydroponically and sells them from his farm and at farmers markets throughout the southern half of the state, including Crystal Springs, Hattiesburg and Gulfport. “I bought the farm in 2005 and wanted a way to make the farm a year-round, sustainable business,” Eaton said. “I discovered tomatoes are a good seller, and that hydroponic was the best way to produce them.”
Vegetables produced hydroponically are grown without soil in a greenhouse and fed nutrients through a computerized watering system. This technique reduces the challenges posed by insects and diseases and extends the growing season for vine-ripened tomatoes.
During peak production in the summer, Eaton’s operation yields 4,000 pounds of tomatoes per week. Although he plans to pursue selling his vegetables to commercial grocery stores, he intends to continue offering his products at farmers markets.
“I like the opportunity that farmers markets offer for networking with other producers and getting feedback from customers,” Eaton said. “I also like providing products people want. Customers line up to buy our produce.”
Eaton uses no chemical pesticides to produce his vegetables, which is a benefit highly valued by many customers.
The interest in naturally grown produce has increased demand for locally grown crops, said David Nagel, Extension horticulture specialist. Other factors influencing the rise in farmers markets include national health recalls of produce and a struggling economy with fewer jobs. Mississippi has benefited from a strong effort by the MSU Extension Service and the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce to develop farmers markets and create a positive environment for growers and consumers.
Increased demand means there is plenty of room in the market for new growers.
“It takes many growers to sustain farmers markets, but interested individuals should do their research before growing for farmers markets,” Nagel said. “Each location is unique, and some vegetables do well in some locations but not very well in others. New growers should understand the local market and decide what needs are not being met.”
Farmers markets serve as local development driver
By Nathan Gregory
MSU Ag Communications
Farmers markets present obvious benefits for both customers and growers, but the operations also provide an avenue for rural and urban community development.
In April 2010, there were 52 known farmers markets in Mississippi. Four years later, there were 84 — an indication that more local governments and organizers are realizing the opportunities markets provide for growth.
The uptick in new Mississippi farmers markets continues this year with the addition of a new one in Coffeeville. Allyson Coleman, a Mississippi State University Extension Service agent in Yalobusha County, has worked with residents there who wanted to have a place to display and sell fruits and vegetables.
Coleman said community and local government support is crucial to the growth and success of any farmers market. Monthly interest meetings have attracted up to 20 people, while county officials and private landowners have stepped up to donate land to serve as a home for the new market. She said those developments are strong indicators that Coffeeville’s new market will get off to a good start, but aggressive promotion and marketing will also be needed to attract a high turnout at the onset and increase the customer base over time.
“You have to have a good community of growers who are invested in the market,” Coleman said. “One vendor just makes a roadside stand. You have to have several volunteers and the backing of your town and county governments. If you don’t have government support, you’re not going to get it from your community.”
In preparation for starting the market in Coffeeville, Coleman closely studied a well-established market in neighboring Water Valley. She said the market not only brings foot traffic to nearby restaurants, but also more customers to stores that co-op with market vendors.
“The founder of the market in Water Valley eventually started an organic farm-to-table grocery store with a restaurant, and you have other restaurants in the area that have recently opened,” Coleman said.
A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture study of farmers markets in Georgia concluded that the facilities had an economic multiplier of 2.66, meaning for every dollar spent at farmers markets, an additional $1.66 was created somewhere else in the local economy.
In Mississippi, the initial impact of $948,640 in direct farmers market income created a total impact of $1.6 million in business revenues in 2009, which meant 15.88 more part-time jobs, $213,720 in wages, and $16,000 in state and local taxes.
Rachael Carter, an economic development specialist with the MSU Extension Center for Government and Community Development, said the farmers market initiative has been embraced by both Mississippi Main Street Communities and the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce as an economic driver for both rural and urban areas.
“Farmers markets are important to the local economies because they can provide direct market support for local producers and support small business revenue in communities,” Carter said. “I think they’re important because they can create awareness about the agriculture sector and get it engaged with the retail sector. Anytime you can create that link, you have started an environment where someone who otherwise would not entertain opening a local business to consider doing so.”
Bob Wilson, executive director of the Mississippi Main Street Association, said farmers markets have become one of the most popular business incubators for entrepreneurs seeking their own storefronts.
“The benefit is when you’re in a farmers market, you’re going to develop a client base,” Wilson said. “A lot of farmers markets are located near downtown areas. If you have a vacancy there, someone who has reached a point where they have repeat customers buying their goods may eventually be able to fill that space.”